Aspen, CO ColoradoThis is the season for dreaming.The relative darkness of the winter solstice prods the senses to admit the end of another year is never far off. The contrast of festive joy is cast against the sadness of boundless loss. The beginning of winter triggers recollections of irreplaceable time spent on the mountain with my dad. In December, remembrances are profound.Deprived of soothing light and easy warmth, the senses are keen these long winter nights. The increased spans of frosty shadows all around provide leverage to spring upon us vivid somnambulistic imagery. It was a spirit of Christmas past, present, and future that visited me recently in my slumber, and brought the meaning of the season into focus:I’m in a nice restaurant having a delightful dinner, taking for granted the person with whom I am dining. Realizing this, I look up at his face. It’s youthful, healthy, and vibrant. He’s the most handsome man I have ever seen. He’s smiling broadly, lightly chuckling at my inattention. Then, I recognize him. It’s my father!I’m in pain now for not being aware sooner. I’ve concentrated on my meal all this time that I could have been talking with him. There’s so much I want to say, so many things I want to ask. I want so desperately to speak, that I can’t.I move towards him. I feel his arms around me. It’s just incredible! He tells me everything is great and not to worry. I tell him that I love him … and he’s gone.Abruptly wide awake, my heart beats rapidly in proportion to its ache. My eyes are swollen with tears. The dream reminded me that he is not far away, he is happy, and I will see him again!This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him in my sleep. Not long after he died, I had poignant dreams on consecutive nights:I am in a crowded hockey arena with some friends, back under the seats where they sell beer and pizza. Something draws me away from this area and I head down a tunnel leading to the crowd around the rink. The noise is deafening, I can’t hear anything in particular. Then, clearly as if we were the only two people there, I hear his voice. “Rog,” he calls in the gentle way that was his habit. I look across the arena.On the other side of the sheet of ice, in the middle of the large crowd, my dad is smiling. As you can only do in dreams, I head straight for him – across the ice, through the action of the game without interrupting it.We hug. I feel the warmth of his body and his incredible strength.”How are you doing?” he asks.I begin to cry. I barely get the words out, “I miss you.”He smiles. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Everything is fine.”I am convinced. He hugs me again and I can tell that he is incredibly happy. I want to stay and watch the rest of the game with him, but an usher comes by and kindly tells me that I must return to my seat.I resist and grab my father’s hand. He squeezes it, winks at me, and says, “I’ll see you after the game.” He smiles one last time and the scene is gone.The next night I find myself dreaming about hockey again. I am not paying any attention to the game. My thoughts are focused on the empty seat next to me. Lots of people want it, but I am saving it for my dad. I search frantically for him, feeling badly for turning people away again and again in the crowded arena. Then, like a punch in the stomach, comes the awful feeling; he isn’t coming.There’s a gentle touch on my shoulder. It’s the usher again. “He’s up there,” he tells me in a kind voice, pointing towards the luxury boxes across the way.I strain my watery eyes looking for him to wave as he did the night before, but I can’t make him out. The flashing scoreboard lights reflect off the glass, making it impossible to see anything inside.The usher reads my mind. “You can’t see him,” he says. “But he’s there. He told me to tell you that everything is fine and he will catch up with you after the game. It’s OK; give that seat to someone else. He wants you to.”For the second night in a row I awoke with my cheeks awash in tears. Whatever stock a person puts in dreams, or whatever their origin may be, I learned something from these. Dreams may not reveal truth, but they can reflect it.I find great comfort in dreams about my father. The source of that joy is in the promise of Christmas. On a lonely, cold night two thousand years ago, an infant, God’s son, our Father, was born with the purpose of giving to us the gift of life eternal. It is the endowment of incomprehensible love.His birth under the bright light of a guiding star removed the crushing hopelessness spawned from the fear that love exists only in the moment and then is gone. The utter thrill of this gift is that the pain of loss cannot endure, while love will never cease.With this assurance, I know that when I kiss my children goodnight, as I share life with my wife, when I do a kindness for a stranger, it becomes part of a love that will last forever; exactly as my father’s does.This game will end. If we play it right, the only reward worth winning awaits us.As I wait, letting others fill the seat that he occupied for so much of my life is difficult, even more so at this time of year. I miss the comfort of him being right at my side. But, a void is cold and desolate. It begs to be filled. Knowing that I am in the same arena as my father and that I will catch up with him after the game, I have learned to joyously share his place with family and friends. With the birth of Jesus, I know that more than his memory is alive. That is the incredible gift. The dream has come true.Merry Christmas. Roger Marolt wishes you a joyous Christmas season. He’s sipping eggnog at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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